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Long-term effects of Covid-19

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The long-term effects of Covid-19 will be psychological, physiological - and inescapable. In this blog we explore what to expect.

The Coronavirus outbreak has changed our lives in almost every conceivable way. Many of us have been forced to alter our working schedules, increase our parenting responsibilities and become vigilant about our health and hygiene habits. We continue to deal with isolation, anxiety, uncertainty about the future and even, in some cases, grieving the loss of loved ones.

This is not a short-term change. The effects of Covid-19 will last throughout the rest of our lifetime and possibly into future generations too. The impact on healthcare workers will be indelible too; many have lost their lives to the disease already. Existing healthcare workers continue to report a rise in mental health issues and safeguarding concerns due to a lack of PPE.

The major difference between the Covid-19 pandemic and other global tragedies is its continuity. Unlike natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and hurricanes, there is no end in sight for Coronavirus within the foreseeable future.

“This has been a national trauma like no other that we have experienced. Consider the terrible flooding we had earlier this year. People watched river levels rise and listened to weather forecasts to find out if they might be inundated the next day or the day after. That was stressful.” Professor Dame Til Wykes, of King’s College London.

We’ve been here before…

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time human life has been rocked by an infectious and deadly disease. Humanity suffered a pandemic of this severity and magnitude back in the 1300s with the outbreak of The Plague, or so-called ‘Black Death’.

The Black Death killed 50 million people in the 1300s - about 60 percent of Europe’s population. More recently, the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 infected about a third of the world’s population. Mull over those figures for a minute. They give some humbling context to the reason governments around the world are working tirelessly to curb the spread of Coronavirus.

Similar to the Covid-19 outbreak. The Black Death came in waves. It infected masses, could not be cured and for a long while nobody knew what had caused it. Initially people believed it had been caused by the sins of others - there was a great deal of distrust between communities as a result. But eventually, Scientists discovered that it was in fact caused by fleas that lived on rats! It spread mostly between merchant ships travelling the globe. But also, very distressingly, when infected bodies were thrown into rival towns by warring nations as an act of biological warfare.

Because so many labourers died from the disease, landowners were hit hard and had to increase wages for artisans and peasants. This brought about a huge shift in the value of labour in society but also put pressure on low level labourers working in insufferable conditions, whilst being exposed to a highly contagious disease. Medical Scientists worked tirelessly to understand the cause and find a cure. The economy plummeted.

Sound familiar?

The similarities between past pandemics and the Covid-19 outbreak are undeniable. No known cure, no known cause. Highly contagious and mercilessly fatal. But one of the biggest similarities between past pandemics and Covid-19 is its impact on the economy.

With countries around the world being forced to halt manufacturing, commerce, hospitality and leisure services in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, much of the working world has come to a standstill. Companies are going out of business every day, many people have lost their jobs and some industries will take years to recover, if at all.

According to the BBC, “In the United States, the number of people filing for unemployment hit a record high, signalling an end to a decade of expansion for one of the world’s largest economies.”

The effect on people

Whilst the long-term effects of Covid-19 on the economy make for shocking reading, the human impact is even more upsetting and relatable to most of us.

WHO reports, “In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.”

Think also of vulnerable children being forced to isolate within harmful environments. Those who have lost their jobs and have no source of income. People with existing mental health conditions who can’t access support services or social events due to Coronavirus closures. This is a problem that will not go away for some time. The effect will be long-term and potentially catastrophic to these individuals.

The physiological impact

Of equal severity, the long-term effects of Covid-19 from a physiological perspective are troubling. 

Many of those who have suffered from the condition will have been hospitalised, perhaps even put on ventilators and undergone life-saving interventions. This will result in psychological and physical trauma that may never dissipate. Similar respiratory ailments such as pneumonia and TB have lifelong consequences on physical health. So we can draw comparisons to build a picture of how Covid-19 might impact the bodies of those who have suffered badly with the virus.

Lung scarring, respiratory issues and recurring health conditions will remain a problem for many people who have fallen victim to Covid-19. Other key physiological risks in Coronavirus patients are blood clots, renal failure and stroke. The list goes on. These patients’ lives will be altered forever.

A brighter outlook

Whilst many of the long-term effects of Covid-19 make for distressing reading, there is also hope.

One of the most positive news stories to emerge from the pandemic is that lockdown measures around the world have led to a significant reduction in air pollution. This is good news for our respiratory health. In fact, the Guardian has reported 11,000 fewer deaths in Europe as a result of cleaner air during lockdown.

Many people have also shifted their lifestyles during lockdown, taking in more daily exercise, practising better hygiene and cooking healthy meals from scratch instead of relying on takeaways and shop bought sandwiches eaten at their office desk. Better hygiene such as hand-washing will benefit the population too.

Looking ahead

The long-term effects of Covid-19 are a mixed bag of good, bad and unpredictable. But one thing remains certain, news of the pandemic isn’t going anywhere soon. We’ll no doubt continue to be affected by the virus for a long time and need to take special measures to protect our physical and psychological health as a priority.

If you’re concerned about your mental health, diet, general wellbeing, family health or any other aspect of your life in relation to healthcare or Coronavirus, speak to a GP. At Vala health we can support you with remote, same-day GP consultations in the comfort of your own home. Receive prescriptions, diagnoses or referrals and get peace of mind that your health is in good hands.

Book an appointment now or get in touch to learn more.

For more information about Coronavirus, visit our advice page

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